Monthly Archives: May 2013

No. 391

Will came upon an old man in the forest who was sitting beside a freestanding door.

“What’s on the other side?” Will asked the man, even though he could clearly see that beyond the door was more of the same forest.

“Bears,” said the man.

Will nodded. “Sure. But don’t bears just go around the door?”

The old man scowled at Will and pointed angrily with his walking stick. “I didn’t say the door was for the bears, did I? Now move along.”

Will, not wanting to upset the man further, did as he was told.

 

The next day, Will sent his friend Jack into the woods to see if perhaps he could discover the true purpose of the strange spectacle.

 

Jack returned late in the afternoon with a black eye.

“No luck, then?” Will asked.

“Nope,” said Jack. “I asked the geezer specifically what the door was for, and he straight-up whacked me with his stick. That’s it. Didn’t say a word.”

“Huh,” Will grunted, deep in thought and ignoring his friend’s wound. “There’s got to be somebody in town who knows what this is all about.”

“Whatever. The dude’s crazy, is all I know. I’m going home.”

“Ok. Right,” Will dismissed him absently.

“See you later,” Jack called on his way out the door.

 

Will spent all night obsessing about the old man and the door. He tossed and turned under his sheets, with all the possible scenarios racing through his head.

Was the door magic?

Did there used to be something built around the door?

Why did the man say “bears”? How did the bears fit in?

On and on it went, until first light when Will got up and left immediately to the cafe on Main Street for breakfast.

 

“Hey,” he said as he slid his chair up to the counter. He looked around and saw several old-timers with their morning coffees. “Has anybody heard about an elderly man in the forest who sits beside a random doorframe?”

“Oh sure,” said a woman at the next table. “That’s Crazy Bob. He’s been up beside that door for who-knows-how long.”

“Why?” Will asked, leaning forward.

“I think mostly because he likes to hit people with his stick,” said the woman’s friend. “After all, his name is Crazy Bob.”

“That’s it?” Will pressed.

“Pretty sure,” said the woman.

“So far as I know,” confirmed her friend.

Will had one more question. “Do you know why he told me about bears? He told me there were bears on the other side.”

“Bears?” said the woman. “He said ‘bears?’”

“Yes.”

“I really couldn’t tell you,” she said. “There hasn’t been a bear around here since, well, since before my time, anyway.”

 

Armed with the new information, Will returned to the forest to confront Crazy Bob. He found the scene just as he’d left it, two days before. “I know who you are and I know there are no bears,” he told Crazy Bob.

Crazy Bob did not lash out, as Will was half expecting. Instead, the man leaned back. “Is that right?” he asked. “Well, then you tell me, what’s that?” he said, pointing again with his stick.

Will looked where the old man indicated. There, on the far side of the door, was a giant bear. When Will turned back to Crazy Bob, the man was smiling and the door was open. “If you’re worried about the bear, just step on through.”

That was when Will decided it would be a good idea to make a run for it.

No. 390

The Republic of Steveistan was an independent nation located just south of the rest stop with the diner on Highway 102.

Steven Otter had won his territory when the local law enforcement community agreed to leave him alone if he stopped calling complaints about border incursions by the cars passing by.

The generally accepted frontier was a straight line from the big oak in Otter’s backyard to the shoulder of the highway on the north side, a curved line that followed his neighbor’s wire fence on the south, and the bank of a small creek through his backyard to the east. The total area of Steveistan was just over an acre.

Otter had declared himself Commander for Life of Steveistan. His wife, Judith, was his deputy. The children had long since grown up and emigrated. Otter printed his own money and issued passports to any townsfolk who wanted a discount on his home-brewed beer, Steveistan’s only export product.

 

“Honey,” Otter called down the hallway of the Capitol building. “I’m going on a trade mission.”

“You’d better not being going to Gerry’s Market,” she yelled back from the kitchen. “Remember, you’re banned from there.”

“Yes dear,” Otter replied. “Is there anything we need?”

There was a slight delay as Judith checked the pantry. “We’re low on sugar, so get some if it’s on sale.”

“Alright,” said Otter as he walked to the garage. “Don’t forget to take the flag down when you hear the door close.”

“I won’t,” Judith told him cheerily.

 

When Steve returned, almost two hours later, he wasn’t in a very good mood.

“What’s wrong?” Judith asked him.

Otter shuffled awkwardly, trying to ignore the question. “Nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, and you know it,” Judith scolded him. “What?”

“I got banned from Food Giant,” Otter admitted.

“What did you do this time?”

“The sugar wasn’t on special, so I took some. As an ambassador, I tried to tell them I had diplomatic immunity. But they wouldn’t let me explain.”

Judith shook her head. “That only leaves Valu-Mart on the other side of town to shop at. I hate Valu-Mart.”

Otter wrung his hands together. “I know.”

“I’m invoking the National Emergency Act,” Judith said with a stern finality.

“I don’t remember that one.”

“It’s all written down in the Charter,” Judith told him, reaching for the spiral notebook that occupied a hallowed place in the middle of the dining-room table. She flipped to the correct page. “See, it says here, ‘In the event of the incapacity of the Commander for Life, his second will assume the role and all powers and privileges granted by the title.’”

“This is a revolution!” Otter gasped. “A coup!”

“Only until you apologize to the store managers you’ve upset,” Judith assured him. “Don’t worry. Steveistan will be safe with me in charge.”

No. 389

Every summer, tourists flock to Pikesville to see the “Hole to Nowhere”.

“It’s bigger than last year!” some convince themselves, even though the size of the Hole never changes.

If anything, it is growing smaller, a cause for great concern among the locals dependent on the outside dollars.

 

The Hole first appeared in 1962. Visitors are told it swallowed a horse, even though nobody present at the time could remember losing a horse. Like most sinkholes, its birth was dramatic and unexpected. A horse could have conceivably fallen in, so the legend wasn’t an outright lie.

What was false was the part of the story that said the cause was unknown.

Clarence Humphrey, the warden at the Hole, knew exactly why the ground had given way. Three other men and one woman knew, as well.

Only Clarence and the woman, Sheila Betts, knew that the name was also misleading. They had learned where the Hole went.

 

“Throw down the rope,” Clarence whispered from the bottom of the pit.

Sheila did as she was instructed, dropping the coiled line over the edge. Then she shimmied down the steep sides to meet Clarence.

“You weren’t followed, were you?” he confirmed on her arrival.

“Of course not,” she hissed back. “I’m not stupid.”

“Just making sure,” Clarence mumbled.

Sheila and Clarence were not friends.

Clarence checked his watch. “Come on. We have an hour till the morning shift arrives up top.”

Sheila rolled her eyes at the obvious information, but her contempt went unnoticed in the dark of the Hole. “You say that every time.”

The pair cleared away a loose pile of dirt along one wall and revealed a passage big enough for one person at a time to enter on their belly.

Without speaking, Clarence followed Sheila through.

They arrived in a vaulted chamber, another sinkhole waiting to happen right beneath Harley’s Grocery. Water dripped down from the ceiling into a crevasse in the floor.

Clarence deftly tied the rope around a rocky outcrop and let it down into the split. Without pausing, he turned and slid down it to somewhere below.

Sheila did the same, but not before checking the knot at the top.

Now, far from the surface, the two came upon the final leg of their journey. A steep tunnel led up, toward the hills north of Pikesville.

“45 minutes,” reminded Clarence.

“I seriously don’t know why you time us every week,” Sheila told him. “Get moving if you’re so worried.”

They left down the tunnel at a light jog, arriving soon after at the secret of the Hole.

The spring was small, just a trickle out of the rocks. It was at the end of a narrow box canyon that would have been impossible reach to without taking the route through the Hole.

Clarence immediately dipped his cupped hands in the water and drank.

Sheila produced a shot glass from her pocket, which she filled and then emptied into her mouth.

“That takes care of that,” Clarence grunted.

“You know,” Sheila told him. “The worst thing about finding the Fountain of Youth is that I have to share it with you.”

No. 388

History books say that between 1975 and 1981 NASA didn’t launch any manned missions to space.

 

October 3, 1980

“Houston, this is Polus 2, we are go for lift-off.”

“Roger, Polus 2. We are starting the countdown. Good luck.”

 

December 12, 1980

“Mommy, look! There are lights on the moon!” said Sally.

“Well, honey, the moon is bright most of the time,” her mother assured her.

“No, Mom. They’re moving.”

“It’s just your imagination. Goodnight, dear.”

 

Now

Sally Baker left the meeting feeling numb.

Her department at NASA was facing severe budget cuts. She had just been informed that she had two days to find a new project with approved funding, or begin telling her staff that they were all going to be out of work.

She sat down at her computer, head spinning with the news. How was she going to save the Prospective Missions Division? Their main role to date had been proposing hypothetical scenarios for future exploration, and then passing their reports to Engineering for feasibility studies. Mostly, it was for good PR stories to take to elementary schools to inspire children’s imaginations about space.

She leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to fight off the headache she could feel forming right between them. She squeezed her temples and took a deep breath. She stayed like that for some time, letting her mind wander.

 

When she opened her eyes they fell on her framed poster of Neil Armstrong on the moon and its caption, “July 20, 1969”.

She stared at the date. It triggered an old memory, something she hadn’t thought about in decades.

Sitting up quickly, she grabbed her security pass and phone from her desk. She dialed with one hand as she hurried out the office door.

“Archives? Hi, this is Dr. Baker. I’m going to be down there in about ten minutes and I’ll need an escort for the classified documents room.”

 

No. 387

I resolved to burn down the cathedral.

In retrospect it was a poor choice. We all make mistakes when we’re angry. I was tired of knights clambering up the hill and chucking rocks into my cave and daring me to come out and fight them. I could only handle so much hassling before I snapped.

Before that, I’d never even thought about hurting anybody, or wrecking their stuff. I’m a dragon, sure, but have you have ever tried eating a human? Ugh. Especially these guys. These guys are not clean.

Well, you can imagine what happened after I destroyed their building. Their trips to my cave are becoming even more frequent and agitated. There are posses. Mobs. One fellow tried to smoke me out of my home. Like I was a problem mole. Come on.

They are angry enough that I may have to move. And moving blows.

You know what, though? Why should I move? I was here first. I should have wiped them out when they built their first stupid little shanty. But no, good dragon that I am, I left them alone. Like I wanted to be left alone. Is that too much to ask? Being civil to each other? I suppose so.

Forget moving. I’ve made up my mind.

If one more person shows up at my door acting like an idiot, I’ll raze the entire town.

No. 386

Danny found treasure at recess. It was an honest-to-goodness gold coin just lying there, in the grass on the soccer field.

He spent it immediately on grape bubble gum.

No. 385

In between the void of inspiration and the page is the place that half-finished stories and discarded characters go. Most will never leave this domain of maybes and what-ifs.

Usually, only a great author can save one, once it’s been abandoned. Most of the time, they’re left forever.

 

Wallace Cooper was not a great author.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he hit the backspace button on Moira Maynard, a supporting character in his detective story whose plot he couldn’t resolve.

 

“Another one?” asked High School Comedy In Space. “How many has this guy sent over in the last week?”

Sexy Secret Agent checked a list. “Seven titles, two abandoned concepts, and thirteen protagonists.” He doubled-checked his list. “And nine villains.”

“Ridiculous,” said High School Comedy In Space. “Doesn’t this Cooper know we’re almost full, here?”

“Probably not,” said Reverse Reality Show, joining the conversation late. “I just spoke to this new Moira.  She said there were four other characters in her story in more or less the same situation she was.”

“Something’s got to be done,” said Sexy Secret Agent.

“How?” Reverse Reality Show asked.

His question led to a spirited discussion. Nobody had a solid suggestion until High School Comedy In Space weighed in.

“We find our own ending to Wallace Cooper’s novel.”

“An ending?” gasped Reverse Reality Show. “None of us have ever met an ending.”

“I heard of one, once” Sexy Secret Agent volunteered softly. “She spends a lot of time by herself on the other side of the realm, though.”

“Who is she?” High School Comedy In Space asked. “Can we see her?”

Sexy Secret Agent swallowed nervously before answering. “Her name is Everybody Dies.”

No. 384

After Rich had racked up more than a hundred dollars in library fines, they suspended his card. That didn’t deter him, though, from finding another way to borrow books.

He had managed to jimmy the lock on the woman’s-bathroom window. At night he slipped inside and simply stole the books that caught his fancy. He was doing well for himself, filling an entire bookshelf in his apartment in a little under two weeks.

Everything was going swimmingly until one Saturday night when he ran into a problem he hadn’t foreseen.

 

He made his way through the window as usual, making sure beforehand that there was nobody else around who might see him. As he dropped to the floor on the inside, he froze. He thought he heard breathing from one of the stalls.

Creeping forward, he paused in front of the closed door. He took a deep breath before pushing it carefully, with one finger. It swung open.

“Alright, you’ve got me,” she said, resigned to her fate.

Rich almost pooped himself. There was a girl in here! He stumbled back in surprise.

“I, uh,” he managed to say.

They looked at each other. Then the truth of their mutual situation dawned on them.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” they said in unison, each pointing that the other.

Rich tried to think of an excuse in a hurry. “I’m the janitor,” he stammered feebly.

She rolled her eyes. “The janitor that sneaks in the window. Right.”

“I, uh.”

“Yeah, save it,” she told him as she closed the distance between them. “I’ll just be straight with you. I’m here to borrow some books.”

“You mean ‘steal’,” Rich corrected.

“That’s such a dirty word.”

Rich shrugged and scratched his head. “Well, I suppose we’re here now,” he suggested.

“Might as well.”

They left the washroom. Rich held the door for her. They parted and each went to their favorite section.

 

The heist was completed in minutes, and afterwards they returned to the window.

The girl threw her haul out and was quick to follow it. As Rich was steadying his books on the ledge to make his escape, she stuck her head back through and smiled at him.

“Same time next week?” she suggested coyly.

Rich was not expecting this offer.

“I, uh.”

“That’s a ‘yes’,” she called back to him as she disappeared into the night.

No. 383

Will checked his phone for messages. There were none. The clock said 8:53. He made up his mind and leaned forward to speak to the limo driver. “She’s not coming. I can still make it in time if we leave now.”

The driver tipped his cap and started the engine. “Perhaps she wasn’t right for you, anyway,” he offered from the front seat.

“Maybe,” said Will. “Maybe you’re right.”

When the car began to move, Will didn’t look back.

Around Gray Publishes Presents – Lisa Dugaro – The Tragical History of Charlie Porter

Elevators don’t have to simply go up and down.
It was Charlie Porter’s dream to liberate the elevator from the meaninglessness of simple up and down movement. He’d just been fired from his elevator-repair job when he came up with the plan. Perhaps he’d felt a kinship with the machine’s scripted responses and powerlessness of direction, or maybe he was just cracking up. That night, he spent a good chunk of his savings on a liquidated antique lift.
A year later, Porter was living on ramen and A & W ketchup packets, but he’d managed to establish a track for his lift that allowed it to move diagonally and right and left as well as up and down.
In another six months, homeless and scrounging for paper to further his plans, he’d done away with the track. The antique lift was long gone, replaced by a theoretical lift which existed only on used napkins and discarded business cards. Of course he was collecting other things, too. A board here, some electrical circuitry there. Porter was building a new elevator from scratch.
In the end, it wasn’t much to look at. The cage was completed with duct tape spun around a tarp, several feel of mis-matched vinyl fencing, and an assortment of beams and bars. The floor was a mosaic of carpet samples and there was no roof. But porter knew his invention would work because of his “secret weapon”–the one item he’d actually stolen.
Knowing he needed an electrical board to program the lift, Charlie Porter did something he’d never thought he’d do: he broke into City University and stole one. Or, at least, the nearest approximation. It was perfect–the panel already had readouts and tuning switches designated “Location” and “Time”.
It was New Year’s Eve for everyone else when Porter decided to take his maiden voyage. He was particularly oblivious to the goings-on around him as he was making the final adjustments to his machine. Even when well-meaning passers-by dropped change into his tool box, he was more annoyed than grateful.
Finally the street quieted down and Charlie Porter was alone with his obsession. He calibrated the elevator to move both up and left, intending to land atop the building on one side of his alley. His directions to the machine were precise: the panel required latitude and longitude as well as planet and solar system information. Chalking it up to interference from whatever the university students had planned it for, Porter dutifully entered all the specifics. The “Time” setting, though, he left on the default 0.0.
Charlie Porter entered his lift and pressed his jury-rigged “Close Door” button. Then he and his machine disappeared.
Thirteen and a half billion years ago, the big bang occurred. If anyone had actually been there, though, they would have described it as “a big bang and also a kinda human scream.”